There is a new kind of bolt-action hunting rifle evolving, absent attendant fanfare to herald-in its existence, to say nothing of its importance. Although the companies involved are hyping their specific model or models, there has been no significant discussion about these arms representing a genre.
I’m talking about what I shall dub “The Modern Hunting Rifle.” I’ll admit that at least to a degree, I am stealing a concept from others in the shooting sports industry, based on what, over the past several years, has become known as the “Modern Sporting Rifle.”
The MSR, of course, is represented by the various AR types of rifles and their ilk. And it is logical to use a similar concept to describe this new genre of bolt-action hunting rifle -- hence to be known as the MHR.
There are several features that separate the MHR from its many predecessors. Generally speaking, an MHR has synthetic stock/trigger guard, some kind of metal bedding feature, minimal size ejection port, removable box magazine, non-reflective finish (blue, black or camo), and is a less expensive option than the manufacturer’s mainline, established bolt-action hunting rifles. Although a true MHR embodies all of the above and maybe even a bit more, a rifle can be an MHR if it embodies most or even some of those features.
It could be debated as to when the MHR began. It has been a while, but there were neither enough units extant nor the parallel commonalities to distinguish the MHR enough to justify its own generic category until recently. That all has changed. The genesis was in Europe/Scandinavia, but the concept has migrated to the United States. It is the result of computerization in both the design and manufacturing processes. Truth is, that the Europeans were quicker to adopt the fuller uses of computerized machinery in both the design and manufacturing processes of firearms.
So what we have here are rifles that are less expensive to make because everything about them has been automated as much as possible and then left to the tender mercy of the bean counters. Yet another common feature shared with all of the MHRs I have encountered is that they are accurate, and in most cases, extremely accurate. I’ve never seen one shoot larger than 1 moa with good ammo, and many do a half of that, or less.
Suffice it to say that this concept was incorporated in Steyr’s Mannlicher Pro back in 1996 and is evidenced in the Tikka T3 rifles introduced in 2003.
In the process of developing the wonder weapons, manufacturers have been tempted/forced to be creative on the design front. Stocks, for example, range from classic to bizarre. Some of their action features depart from the same company’s mainline rifles in just some ways, while other examples explore entirely new ideas about how an action, trigger, bolt, etc. should look and work.
And, like their MSR cousins, the MHRs tend to be immune to the ravages of the natural elements. We’re talking about rifles for hard hunting in bad conditions. The terms tactical/practical come to mind here.
Overall, what we are seeing is the final departure from the Mauser design influence in popular bolt-action rifles. I suppose one could argue that there still remain enough features of the Mauser design in some of these rigs to qualify them as descendants. Okay. But they are far enough removed as to be in an entirely different genre. And that’s not bad, really. What’s wrong with evolving a new genre every 100 to 150 years?
By taking advantage of improved design, materials and manufacturing techniques, companies are able to offer now a truly hardcore, no-nonsense, effective, low end, entry level hunting rifle that shoots straight. This is all good. And this new genre is not limited to the entry level.
Yet some observers have voiced concern that these bargain guns will rob from the sales of the higher priced, more full-featured mainline hunting rifles from the same company. Not only does it not seem to be working out that way, but also one could have predicted that it would not have such an effect if one were to have been around Gundom for a few decades.
A totally parallel phenomenon was in full bloom in the 1950s/1960s when massive numbers of military surplus rifles were brought to the U.S. and sold very cheaply.
Some of the gun folks back then worried that the cheap Mausers, etc. would kill the sales of new commercial hunting rifles. They were so concerned about it that they were behind the grooming and eventual election of a guy named Dodd--later we saw the 1968 gun laws kick in and then there was a following dip in sales of the commercial firearms. In other words, the dip in sales of commercial arms didn’t happen until AFTER there was a cut in the availability of the surplus arms.
What happened was simple. The cheap surplus rifles allowed a much larger group of people to enter the shooting sports, and once in the shooting sports via the surplus rifles and handguns, they began buying the prettier and more expensive commercial guns. Absent the presence of cheap surplus guns, fewer people were getting into and staying in the ranks of active shooters, which meant the biomass of the potential market flattened out. It took a long time for all of that to work its way through the system.
So, what is happening now is that the manufacturers have come up with ways to offer shooters really bargain-priced rifles, shotguns and handguns that work well. We are talking about effective hunting instruments that, not surprisingly, also can serve double-duty on the tactical/defense front should that be a factor.
Hopefully these new MHRs will serve to bring more new shooters into the sport and help them begin a rewarding lifelong avocation.
I plan to cover these new MHRs as well as other new firearms throughout the year in the pages of Western Outdoor News. Among those to be covered, alphabetically, are: Ruger American, Savage Axis and Thompson/Center Dimension.
DIMENSION FROM Thompson/Center is not merely a Modern Hunting Rifle (MHR), but it also incorporates a host of other features that virtually puts it into a classification of its own.
AXIS FROM Savage is a Modern Hunting Rifle, and it is available in both right and left-hand versions. Here is the southpaw Axis.
AMERICAN FROM Ruger is a Modern Hunting Rifle that features an action that is a departure from Ruger’s mainline Model 77 design.